Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Germany bans radical Islamic group

Associated Press:

Authorities on Wednesday shut down an Islamic center attended by Khaled al-Masri, the man who has accused the CIA of abducting him, after seizing material allegedly urging Muslims to carry out suicide attacks in Iraq.

The state government of Bavaria said the activities of the Multi-Kultur-Haus association threatened the coexistence of Germans and foreigners as well as security in the country.

"We will not tolerate organizations that are set up aggressively against the constitutional order and call openly for the use of violence," state Interior Minister Guenther Beckstein said.

The association, which was banned on Wednesday, backed efforts outside Germany that are "incompatible with the basic values of a government order which respects people's dignity," Beckstein said in a statement.

The move was the latest in a series against Islamists in and around the southern towns of Neu-Ulm in Bavaria and Ulm in neighboring Baden-Wuerttemberg state.

Al-Masri, a German citizen who is suing the CIA for allegedly kidnapping him and taking him to Afghanistan, has acknowledged visiting the center.

While Al-Masri says his captors told him he was seized in a case of mistaken identity, his lawyer has suggested that his client was abducted because of his links to the association.

"In all interrogations, in Macedonia and Afghanistan, Khaled al-Masri was asked only about the Multi-Kultur-Haus in Ulm, about the people he knew there," Gnjidic told Munich's Abendzeitung newspaper last month.

Al-Masri claims U.S. agents questioned him about associates including about Reda Seyam, a German citizen of Egyptian descent who is under investigation by federal prosecutors on suspicion of supporting al-Qaida but has not been detained.

Al-Masri has acknowledged he was friendly with Seyam, but denied any knowledge of terrorist activities.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Beckstein said Wednesday that, while authorities observing the Islamist scene had noticed al-Masri, "he wasn't the target of our observations, but was rather a marginal figure."

Beckstein said authorities noticed that al-Masri had stopped showing up, but only heard of his alleged abduction along with other government officials after his release in May 2004.

Al-Masri's case has stoked debate in Germany about how to prevent terrorist attacks while safeguarding civil liberties. Federal Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, for instance, is calling for tougher laws so that anyone who has trained in camps in Afghanistan can be prosecuted.

In remarks published Wednesday, Uwe Schuenemann, the interior minister of Lower Saxony state, floated a new idea: placing electronic tags on foreign extremists who cannot be deported to their countries of origin because they might be tortured.

"That would allow the observation of many of the around 3,000 potentially violent Islamists, hate preachers and fighters trained in foreign camps," Schuenemann was quoted as saying by the daily Die Welt. "That would certainly mean more security."

On Wednesday, security officials confiscated and searched the Multi-Kultur-Haus premises in Neu-Ulm and froze its account at a bank in Stuttgart. There was no mention of any arrests, and no details were released of what was found.

However, Beckstein's ministry said the evaluation of books and tapes seized in raids against the association and five of its leading members in September confirmed suspicions that it was promoting extremist ideas and armed "holy war."

A ministry statement cited a book in the group's library calling for Jews and Christians to be executed if they did not convert to Islam, and a compact disc titled "Iraq" which featured the words: "Victory is not only killing the unbelievers, but also killing oneself in order to beat back the unbelievers."

The ministry said the effectiveness of the campaign was shown by the death in Chechnya of two people from southern Germany. It didn't provide any details.

Authorities first carried out raids in January against the group on suspicion that it had formed a terrorist organization and again in February for suspected business offenses. They also have deported two so-called "hate preachers" from the association to Egypt.

Beckstein said officials had also seized instructions for the manufacture of explosives, but that there was no evidence that members of the association were preparing attacks in Germany.

Germany bans radical Islamist group in Bavaria

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